Afraid of Heights is formulaic and often boring.
Billy Talent’s Afraid of Heights is formulaic and often boring. Except for some solid guitar riffage, the album is more a parody of the band’s earlier work than a welcome return after four years away. It also suffers from vocalist Ben Kowalewicz’s voice changing from manic and strange to something more like Dana Carvey’s impersonation of Katherine Hepburn. Billy Talent used to be an exciting, faux-dangerous, punk-infused rock band that broke into the mainstream and shook things up–in 2003. But clinging to the same aesthetic, its new album is just the latest exercise in nostalgia—even though the band never really went away.
Still, Ian D’Sa’s guitar work is bizarre and fresh and super-creative. He can also record the hell out of a rock record, and the album’s overall sound is tight, polished and accessible. Considering this is only the second Billy Talent album he’s led, that’s saying something. Problem is, the don’t-bore-us-get-to-the-chorus DNA that pervades Afraid of Heights suggests that he couldn’t get out of his own way with the production side of his producer credit. There is nothing to these songs. Nothing that surprises. Nothing that’ll wake you up from a lull. It’s starts off at a steady pace and maintains that steady pace for nearly fifty minutes. Some may call that consistency. Most—or anyone who’s ever given the music they listen to a good think—would call it a total bore.
The album isn’t without a solid track or two. “Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats,” a ludicrous title if it’s played straight, which it seems the band does, is a decent head-bobber. While it doesn’t break any new ground, it’s a standard rock tune that is just hooky and riffy enough to stand slightly apart from other standard rock tunes. “Leave Them All Behind” is at first a pretty little ballad that erupts into a pop rock tune with a chorus that’ll pepper itself all over your brain. But again, you’ve heard songs like this, most of them released more than a decade ago.
“Louder Than the DJ” is a tune that wants to be a rallying cry to all rock ‘n’ roll bands. Take back the airwaves, it pleads: “… revolution starts on the mic/ Strike three chords that cut like a knife/ Radio needs a shot to the vein/ Of anger, fury, heartache and pain baby”. The issue with a song like this on an album like Afraid of Heights is that this is exactly why rock radio is dying. Formulaic rock music has no business asking anyone to give the airwaves a shot in the arm when mainstream hip hop and pop take risks with both craft and form without telling rock ‘n’ roll to take a hike.
Billy Talent has churned out a pristine-sounding album with solid musicianship, But the formula doesn’t work anymore, guys. Want to take back the airwaves? Take risks, be bold and don’t let your listeners ever, ever get bored.